Health Highlights: Nov. 14, 2017

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Trump Picks Former Drug Company Executive to Lead HHS

A former drug company executive has been nominated by President Donald Trump to be the new U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary.

Alex Azar, 50, spent the last 10 years with Eli Lilly. He was president of the company’s key U.S. affiliate before leaving and starting his own consulting firm in January, the Associated Press reported.

Azar needs to be confirmed by the Senate before taking control of the HHS, which is responsible for food and drug safety, medical research, public health and health insurance programs.

Typically, HHS secretaries are former elected officials such as governors, not former executives of industries regulated by the department, the AP reported.


U.S. Army Loosens Rules on People With History of Certain Mental Health Issues

People with a history of some types of mental health problems can now seek waivers to join the U.S. Army.

Under an unannounced policy implemented in August, waivers can be sought by people with a history of “self-mutilation,” bipolar disorder, depression and drug and alcohol abuse, reveal documents obtained by USA Today.

The Army issued a ban on waivers in 2009 due to high suicide rates among troops. One reason for the recent policy change is that the Army now has access to more medical information about recruits, according to Army spokesman Lt. Col. Randy Taylor.

“The decision was primarily due to the increased availability of medical records and other data which is now more readily available,” Taylor said in a statement to USA Today. “These records allow Army officials to better document applicant medical histories.”

The Army is trying to recruit 80,000 new soldiers by September 2018. To reach last year’s target of 69,000 recruits, the Army accepted more people who did poorly on aptitude tests, increased the number of waivers granted for users of marijuana, and offered hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses.

“For all waivers, the burden of proof is on the applicant to provide a clear and meritorious case for why a waiver should be considered,” one Army memo states, USA Today reported.

According to Taylor, many highly qualified applicants have been disqualified due to incidents that took place when they were young children.

However, accepting recruits with poor qualifications can lead to trouble. For example, in 2006 an Iraqi girl was raped and her family killed by U.S. soldiers. One of those soldiers joined the Army after receiving waivers for minor criminal activity and poor educational background, USA Today reported.

“With the additional data available, Army officials can now consider applicants as a whole person, allowing a series of Army leaders and medical professionals to review the case fully to assess the applicant’s physical limitations or medical conditions and their possible impact upon the applicant’s ability to complete training and finish an Army career,” Taylor said. “These waivers are not considered lightly.”

The Army did not provide information about how many waivers, if any, have been issued since the policy change, USA Today reported.


Disneyland Shuts 2 Cooling Towers After Legionnaires’ Disease

Two cooling towers at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. have been shut down due to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.

Twelve cases of the severe lung infection were identified about three weeks ago, according to Orange County health officials. Nine of the patients visited Disneyland in September and the other three were county residents, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Ten of the patients were hospitalized and one patient “with additional health issues” died, health officials said.

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by exposure to water or mist that is contaminated with Legionella bacteria.

“On Oct. 27, we learned from the Orange County Health Care Agency of increased Legionnaires’ disease cases in Anaheim. We conducted a review and learned that two cooling towers had elevated levels of Legionella bacteria,” Dr. Pamela Hymel, chief medical officer for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, said in a statement Friday, the Times reported.

“These towers were treated with chemicals that destroy the bacteria and are currently shut down,” Hymal added.

“There is no known ongoing risk associated with this outbreak,” according to a statement from the Orange County Health Care Agency, the Times reported.


Bill Gates Donates $50 Million to Alzheimer’s Research

Bill Gates says he will provide $50 million for research into efforts to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

The money will go to a private-public partnership called the Dementia Discovery Fund, which focuses on some unique theories about what what is behind the brain disease, such as a brain cell’s immune system, according to CNN.

This is the first time Gates has funded research into a noncommunicable disease. Previously, the main focus of his foundation has been infectious diseases such as HIV, malaria and polio.

Alzheimer’s affects 47 million people worldwide. More than five million Americans have Alzheimer’s, which is the sixth leading cause of death in the country. If treatments aren’t found, it’s predicted that 16 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s by 2050, CNN reported.

“The growing burden is pretty unbelievable,” Gates said, adding that he has a personal connection with Alzheimer’s. “Several of the men in my family have this disease. And so, you know, I’ve seen how tough it is. That’s not my sole motivation, but it certainly drew me in.”


Aaron Hernandez’ Brain Autopsy Reveals Signs of Severe Disease Linked to Head Trauma

Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots football player who hung himself in April at age 27, had a brain riddled with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease typically linked to repeat head trauma, doctors reported Thursday.

The findings might help explain the NFL star’s erratic behavior before his death. Hernandez’ suicide occurred in his prison cell days after being acquitted for a 2012 drive-by shooting of two men in Boston, and only hours before the Patriots were set to celebrate their latest Super Bowl victory at the White House.

Hernandez was in prison serving a life sentence for the 2013 murder of semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd.

As reported by the Associated Press, Dr. Ann McKee, who directs Boston University’s CTE Center, said it was impossible to “connect the dots” between Hernandez’ CTE and his actions leading up to his death.

But she said the disease had affected the frontal lobe of his brain, an area linked to impulse control, judgment and behavior.

“We can say collectively, in our collective experience, that individuals with CTE — and CTE of this severity — have difficulty with impulse control, decision-making, inhibition of impulses or aggression, often emotional volatility and rage behaviors,” McKee told the AP. Her team has studied hundreds of brains of athletes donated after their death.

CTE is thought to be caused by head trauma, such as that experienced by football players, boxers and military personnel. It can only be diagnosed during an autopsy.

According to McKee, the outside of Hernandez’ brain appeared normal, but the inside was severely affected by CTE. There was also evidence of numerous prior small hemorrhages, often linked to head trauma, she said. As well, the hippocampus (important to memory) was shrunken, and large holes were observed in the brain’s membrane.

Overall, “These are very unusual findings to see in an individual of this age,” McKee told the AP. “We’ve never seen this in our 468 brains, except in individuals some 20 years older,” she said.